Collaboration, local innovation, and integration across scales were themes that permeated this year’s Global Food Security Symposium organized by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. It marked the launch of the report, Advancing Global Food Security: The Power of Science, Trade, and Business, which laid out a blueprint for action targeted at policy leadership (specifically in the U.S.) to address issues of food security and nutrition.
According to co-chair of the Global Agriculture Development Initiative Catherine Bertini’s opening remarks, the Council sees three things as central to agricultural transformation: science, trade, and business. The report itself calls for ‘sustainable intensification’ of agriculture, referring to an increase in production, nutrition, and income, with more efficient use of inputs and resources, lessening the environmental impacts and boosting resilience to a changing climate. This “broadening of agriculture’s mandate” includes the full range of benefits beyond production, and was a key topic of the day’s discussions.
At the end of her introduction, Bertini posed the crtitical question, “how can we reinvent agriculture so that the Earth and all of its people are sustained?” Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), continued this line of thought in his keynote address, highlighting the strides that the agency’s Feed the Future program has made in terms of addressing hunger and malnutrition. He noted how this administration has prioritized food security, focusing on smallholder productivity. But also stressed how “we know to end hunger we must work from farm to market to table,” managing multiple scales of the challenge. Although reinforcing the importance of technological solutions and in particular new seed technology. But in this more holistic view, he went on to say that technology is not a magic bullet, and there needs to be better access to markets and improvements in childhood nutrition.
A similar sentiment pervaded the morning panel on A New Science of Agriculture to Advance Global Food Security. An impressive group of experts tackled some of the serious questions on research and science with regards to food security and development. CEO of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), Dr. Lindiwe Sibanda, who you may recall moderated much of Agricultural Landscapes and Livelihoods Day at the UNFCCC COP18, was a vocal proponent of taking a system-wide approach. This was discussed at length in relation to research that spans disciplines and engages with farmers, addressing the need for science that accompanies farmer-led innovation. But most importantly, Sibanda stressed the need to invest in people – and the multidisciplinary platforms need to bring together stakeholders from different sectors and at different levels. We need to essentially transition from “research for development to research in development.”
Dr. Mauricio Antonio Lopes, the president of the Brazilian Agriculture Research Corporation (EMBRAPA), raised another key issue about the importance of the policy environment in which any research and innovations takes place. He cited the success of Brazil in preserving forest resources through policies that increase the productivity of agriculture. That said, even a country like Brazil with considerable interest and momentum, faces barriers to implementing policies and programs specifically targeting low-carbon agriculture.
As the day progressed into the afternoon session on the Environment and Agriculture Nexus, the focus remained on technology and collaboration to reach better agricultural development outcomes. Discussants highlighted climate change and future impacts, social networks and engaging farmers and youth, and technological innovations for livestock production. But there was another strong message from the discussions that day – global change will have to be better understood, at the different scales of farms, regions, and countries. We need more foresight to reconcile the complexity inherent in these systems.
So while the various elements of a more integrated agricultural system surfaced over the course of the day, what seemed to be lacking was that integration itself. Perhaps Mr. Rich Engel, director of the Environment and Natural Resources Program of the National Intelligence Council, most aptly captured this sentiment during the environment and agriculture session, recognizing the need to “infuse a perspective of climate and climate extremes in everything we do.” We need the technology and research; we need the multi-stakeholder, cross-sectoral, and farmer-initiated processes; but we also need an underlying consideration for the sustainability of the natural environment as a whole – a ‘systems’ perspective.
What do you think? How do we strike the balance between technology, social innovation, and protecting natural systems?